due for revision

Every once in a while, I get an urge to re-write the ten commandments. Last night was such a night — after a morning of Prayer Book, and an evensong full of tricky bits of Paul, which ended with ‘God is not yes, no, but yes, yes.’

So here, hastily done, is the latest gloss…

The Divine Word

Imagine a God who says yes.
Whose word is yes, yes. Not no.
Yes, you are my beloved.
Yes, you are my child.

And imagine we taught our children
generation after generation
to listen for God’s yes —
for God’s glorious liberating word

and we greeted them
not with Thou Shalt Not,
but with God’s deeper call,
God’s eager yes.

On our walls we might still paint the words our ancestors taught us:
Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul,

with all your mind and with all your strength.
Love, others too — not just the ones you like,
or the ones who are like you —
but love them all, for I, the Lord your God, am a loving God:
all creation is mine.

Imagine we taught our children the great commandments:
Rest is Holy. Rest is sacred. Remember that you need rest.
And help others to stop their busyness too —
children and parents, strangers and friends
all must be given time
to be free
to set aside the tasks of the day
to delight in love and beauty and wonder.

When there is time, we can learn to value each other:
so, honour your parents, listen and learn from them;
honour your children too: for they know the ways of God.

Imagine that we taught our children
God’s way is not of death.
Give life to others, and help them live.
God’s love for us is precious and kind.
Be kind to others, and be faithful.

Our Great God gives us all we need
so give freely, share what you have.  There is enough.
here is no need to fear or to lie.  You are loved —
so you are free — to speak truth, to speak kindness,
to sing God’s word and dance God’s joy.

Delight in other people’s gifts, rejoice in their riches, 
find joy in one another’s peculiar ways,
for I, your God, am a curious God —
I love to laugh and catch you off guard.
Laugh with me.

And what if we invited God to write these words on our hearts?
If we taught our children to do the same?
Then would we be miserable?
Then would we offend?

Or might we believe
that we are worthy
that we are blessed
that we are beloved?

Imagine that this is our God
who longs to give us love.

For God it is
who says Yes
who delights in our being
and longs for our joy.

hold my hope

So, when did you last sit down with a book on prayer and find yourself laughing? Oh, all right. I do laugh with books on prayer — but it’s often a bit rueful, as I face yet again the gap between what I hope for and what I sustain. This was different. This book is funny — and worth sharing:

Ana Hernández is someone whose worked crossed my path last autumn when I went to the Music that Makes Community workshop in New York. She is a creator of earworms, and teacher of chant.

Earworm first. I think I have shared this before: Open my Heart. It doesn’t sound like much at first, but trust me — if you listen to it a few times, it will sing itself in your consciousness at the most helpful times.

I love her songs, and they have been a large part of my prayer for the last year — but I confess, the book has made me a bit nervous. The Sacred art of Chant: preparing to practice.

I like chant. I like it contained safe in the walls of Evensong and Compline. I like it sung stunningly by well trained monks. But this book seemed to be asking more of me. I suggests that I might chant. It suggests that I might make it a part of my daily prayer. It suggests that I might make noise in prayer. Silence, yes. Noise? God of all Scariness, give us strength.

Still, you know that I tend to think that what terrifies us is good for us and one of the ways God calls us to grow, so I have persevered. Ana Hernandez makes strong claims for chant:

Chanting with an intention to open our hearts and minds to the presence of God in us helps us to be quiet in the face of mystery and learn how to hear what it has to say to us. Chanting can hep us focus when we’d normally space out, stay calm when we’d normally blow up, raise our energy level when it’s time to go out, lower our energy level when it’s time to go to bed (or vice-versa — you make the call). Chanting is great at helping us fathom how to deal with our emotions so we don’t feel overwhelmed and so we don’t overwhelm others: It helps find and maintain a balanced perspective.

… and I have this nagging hunch that what she is saying might just be true.

So, I wanted to share it — to say ‘sing this. read this. try this with me?’

Even if you find that chant is not your thing, I think this is a book worth reading. She is asking big questions about how we can live more openly with God and one another, and how we can ‘manifest our sweetest selves’. I suspect that only someone who is not always sweet could have stumbled across that goal, and I find that very reassuring.

I’ll give her the last word: Hold my hope. The Schehallion Reel of chanting:

first impressions

This morning I have taken my office outside and am working from the Butterfly Garden in New Waltham. This is one of the many surprises of the past week. The villages are lovley. Waltham itself (village? town?) is gently busy and bright. New Waltham is the least likely place to seek quiet. It is on the edge of Cleethorpes, and much more suburban. But someone here understands sacred space, and there is a well crafted garden slowly growing into a sanctuary.

My first impressions of Lincolnshire led to thoughts of Oz. But there is no ambiguity now: this is England.

In the week before my institution, the community police officer dropped by to say hello; the local take away hand delivered a menu (probably on the rumour that my cooker had not arrived); the local papers had articles welcoming me, and apparently I was the talk of the town, from hairdresser, to news agents, to pub.

I kept my head down till the licensing, and people were remarkably respectful of that. But as soon as I went out in my dog-collar, the energy was released: people wave from their cars as they pass; I get stopped in the street; there is a growing list of people and places where I am supposed to drop in because they want to meet the new ‘vicar’.

Learning what it means to be the parish priest will not be a problem. I have four villages and two small towns ready and eager to teach me.

For the first week, I spent most of my time going around the churches: tea, chat and worship, in half-day blocks. It was good to meet people in their own environment, and to begin to realise how different these churches are. In one village, I was introduced to The Protestant Reformation Society. Remember them? I thought they’d passed out of existence a century ago, but apparently, the issues are still live. The 39 articles are firmly defended. Surplice and stole are the norm. Opinions vary widely in the congregations, but everyone knows that Calvin and Cramner are never far away.

On the other hand, I found a pink chasuble in one of the churches last night. Glory be.

What strikes me is this: there are a huge number of people here who are deeply committed to the churches. Some of those people would never dream of worshipping, and would find it mildly surprising to think that might be what church was about. And yet, they organise rotas to mow the graveyard. They swoop in to clean the church and dress it in fairy lights for fundraising dinners. They come when the new priest says ‘I’ll be in the church’ and they ask about weddings and blessings and prayer.

The nature of worship is sometimes ambiguous but the role of prayer is not. More people have spoken to me about prayer in the past week than in most years of parish ministry.

So that’s where we’ll start: with prayer. And with cleaning the sacristies — and the fonts and altars too.


the Lincolnshire wood-pidgeon

Pigeon like, she sits on the road, drawing all warmth to herself.   But there is strength here, and courage not to flinch as drivers race the Red Arrows overhead.

Sometimes, bravery is mixed with contemplation.  The pigeon sits, with an impossibly long branch in her beak, and wonders ‘can I fly?’

This is not a question to test too hastily.  One should not rush off, just because a car is fast approaching.  The pigeon knows that even humans can learn to wait, if really they must.

So she sits pondering the branch, and pondering her path.  There is a good route there, straight ahead.  Plenty of space to land if the branch proves too resistant.  She lifts her head and beats her wings, and flies — down the dotted line.

There are no wood-pigeons here.  Just feathered lions, the fearless angels of time.

waves of grain

I have come to a land of poppies.

Huge fields of them, swaying in the wind, holding their own against the rape seed, dancing more demurely with the grain. The landscape is said to be flat — and sometimes, it truly is so — but as often as not it swoops gently and reminds me of New England farms.

And that is the great surprise of Lincolnshire. Here I am in a place I do not know, have hardly ever been to, and it feels already known. Sometimes, it is New England. Sometimes, Kentucky or Virginia. Sometimes Oz. But one way or another, I turn a corner and think: this is a place I have always known.

My first Sunday here, I went to Boston. I hadn’t meant to go to there, but after many a frustrating hour driving around central Lincolnshire looking for a 5th Sunday Eucharist, I gave up, and decided to go to a church I knew would be open.

St Botolph’s — the tallest parish church in England — is known as The Stump. The tower rises octagonally and once would have been lit to help map and navigate the fens.

Did I know that Boston gave us Boston? I suppose I did — but I hadn’t thought about it. Did I care about the links between one place and another? Perhaps, but not as much as one might assume. I went for the eucharist, and that seemed to be enough.

I am not much of an historian, and I have little sentiment about pilgrim roots. And yet, as I stood there and began saying the Collect for Purity, I could hear the echo of those who had stood in the church all those years ago and said the same prayer before boarding the ships and crossing the ocean and saying it again — in time — at Old North Church.

Later, I read of a Forth of July celebration in one of the towns along the coast, and found that the local Tesco’s sells Hershey’s cocoa, Crisco, Kayro and Butterfingers.

It is all unexpected, and slightly strange — but quite delightful too.

Boston Stump


promise of return

Seek the Lord while he may be found,
call upon him while he is near.
Let the wicked forsake their ways,
and the unrighteous their thoughts.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
says the Lord, nor are my ways your ways.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.
For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven
and do not return until they have watered the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose.

Isaiah 55

Two years ago, my spiritual director said to me: ‘You are in Ascensiontide, and Pentecost remains hidden: ‘stay here in the city until you have been clothed with the power from on high.’ (Lk 24)

It has been a long, and often times beautiful Ascensiontide.  I will go to the Cathedral this Thursday to remember and give thanks.  And then, by the grace of God, it will be Pentecost at last.